Forever watching over us
We take a break from our regular programming and journey to visit the King of Moab – Balak. Balak was intent on destroying the Jewish People, and enlisted the help of a Non-Jewish Prophet called Balaam to aid him on his mission. Balaam is an interesting character, possessing the ability to receive prophecy from God Himself, though, as we understand it, he was not the nicest of people. He was known to be quite arrogant, selfish and unpleasant. Balak requested the presence of Balaam on several occasions and eventually Balaam was swayed to help King Balak on his mission.
Along the way, Balaam’s donkey is blocked by an Angel of Hashem and the donkey has a conversation with Balaam. Balaam then makes several attempts at cursing the Jewish People, but to no avail as Hashem sees fit to put words of blessing into his mouth instead of a curse.
The Sedra ends with Pinchas who, in an act of zealotry, kills a Midianite princess and a Jewish Soldier, as he feared that immorality would destroy the Jewish People.
This is a strange story for many reasons; we have evil prophets, talking donkeys and dramatic acts of zealotry, all wrapped up together. For me, however, the most puzzling of observations is that the Children of Israel appear to be completely oblivious to all the events taking place throughout this story. As far as they were concerned, they were minding their own business, getting on with day to day life in the wilderness, when, almost out of nowhere, a crazy, Non-Jewish Prophet appears to bless them. It is as though the camera that has been filming their whole saga moves away from the main story and shows a side line event about one of the seemingly insignificant characters. In fact, nowhere else in the Torah do we find such a shift in focus away from Moshe and his people.
One insight into the reasoning behind this sedra is that we need to see and learn from this story in order to recognise the kindnesses of Hashem. We need to know this story so that we can at least begin to understand the extent of God’s love and care for us. We need to recognise that Hashem protects us from dangers of which we were never even aware. The story of Balaam gives us a glimpse into the threats that can face the Jewish People and allows us to see the dramatic turn of events that ensued in order that they would be saved from harm.
We must, therefore, heed this important lesson – there are countless times that Hashem steps up to protect us and take care of us without us ever having a clue. Take the planned Neo Nazi Rally scheduled to take place this Shabbat; this is something we know about and so are able to bring such anti-Semitic and fascist behaviour to light. How many acts like this take place around the world at any given time that we have no idea about?
The kindness of Hashem is far beyond what we can ever know or understand. In troubled times, we often resent God and the situation we are faced with, but this is the challenge for us to overcome. We will never know the extent of His love for us and His protection over us, but we must remember that He is forever watching over us with His arms wrapped around us.
The story of Balak is a children’s favourite. We often quote and remember the story, mostly because of the appearance of the talking donkey. However, Bilam’s talking donkey is just one part of a much bigger episode with many hidden gems of wisdom to learn from.
Bilam was a non-Jewish prophet. He was selected by God to be His voice and to teach to the nations outside of the Children of Israel about God and his ways.
Bilam was an advocate for Monotheism, he journeying from place to place preaching about one God. Even so, we learn that he was considered a wicked man who misused his gift of prophecy and prospered as an enemy of the Jewish People. Balak, the King of Moav knew this and sought to convince Bilam to venture to the Jewish camp in order to curse them in the desert.
Bilam asked God for permission which was eventually granted, and while on the way he was met with an angel from God and a message from his talking donkey. Eventually he arrives near the camp and as he opens his mouth to recite words of evil and cursing, a miracle occurred and he spoke words of blessing and praise.
What fascinates me about this is that when the Jewish People hear Bilam’s blessing, they must have simply thought – “that’s nice!” “The non-Jewish prophet has come to bless us, now we can carry on with our regular lives.” Before this point they had no idea that evil men were plotting to destroy them and scheming for their downfall. They had experienced a miraculous salvation but were entirely unaware. Throughout our history individuals and nations have stood up to destroy us, and many times God has stepped in to protect us, but on this occasion not a person knew of the danger brewing over the mountain.
If they didn’t know this was going on why do we need to know this story, why was it recorded in the Torah? They could not celebrate the fact they were saved, nor can we learn from their actions.
The answer is that we need to know what happened to help us grasp the extent of God’s everlasting love for His people. God is continually working to guide & protect us, sometimes we are able to see this, but many times it goes unnoticed. Each time we read of Israeli intelligence foiling terror plots, it represents tens of similar stories that are not shared with the general public, but the army continues to protect its people quietly in the shadows.
The story of Balak and Billam teaches us that God is always there to protect us. The people of the time they had no concept of the events taking place under their noses, nor did they see the great miracle that God performed in order to protect them. For us, we must continually appreciate the gifts that have been bestowed upon us, be thankful for what we have and try as best we can to see the hand of God in our daily lives.